Once you experience the amount of time and effort saved by a drip irrigation system, you will not want to go back to watering with a sprinkler or by hand. However, you may wonder how else you can automate your gardening experience to achieve the most desirable results with the minimal amount of effort. If you are wondering what comes after drip installing a drip irrigation system, then you should look into fertigation.
Fertigation is the process of adding fertilizers to your irrigation system. This means that not only water is delivered directly to your target plants' roots, but also a blend of carefully calibrated fertilizers intended to give you strong, healthy plants. Fertigation systems are designed to work with drip irrigation systems, but there are a few things you should know before you install your system.
Installing a Fertigation System
Installing a home fertigation system is a simple process. Most importantly, you need to remember to install a one-way valve before your fertilizer pump to prevent contamination of your drinking water. After the one-way valve, you will install a fertilizer pump. There are a variety of pumps on the market. Most of these involve a reservoir that you can fill with fertilizer and a timer that either injects fertilizer into your drip system or allows passing water to pull fertilizer into your system at certain times.
Selecting the Proper Fertilizers
Once you have set up your fertigation system, you will need to select which fertilizers you will add to your plants. Most plants will benefit from a general fertilizer blend with several nutrients, but some, such as bean plants, require special blends. When selecting fertilizers for your fertigation system, it is important to select fertilizers that are as close to 100% water soluble as possible. Phosphorous will usually give you the biggest problem, as it can range from 30%-100% soluble. Fertilizers that are not water soluble can create a sludge that will eventually clog your irrigation system.
Once you have found water soluble fertilizers, you should create a schedule for when the plants should receive their fertilizer. You should consider not only which days the plants will be fertilized, but at what time of day as well. Also, keep in mind that since your fertilizer will be applied directly to each plant, you should use the minimum recommended amount as opposed to the maximum recommended amount.
Preventing Cross-contamination of Fertilizers
Some fertilizers that are water soluble when separate, bond to form large particles that will get stuck in your irrigation system when they are combined. This, just like non-soluble fertilizers, can result in a clogged irrigation system. To prevent this, it is important that you keep your various fertilizers separate.
First, you should avoid cross-contaminating the storage container at your fertigation pump. You can do this by purchasing several storage containers to use for each type of fertilizer or by emptying and thoroughly cleaning the container every time you switch fertilizers.
Second, you should avoid combining fertilizers within the drip system. To do this, you should make sure that you run your drip system for a while after the fertilizer is added. For most systems, it will take a few hours for the fertilizer to completely leave the system. If you are worried that the system may still have fertilizer in it, you can open up the release valves at the end of your system and quickly send a stream of water through at high pressure to clear your system of remaining fertilizer. This will also clear any sediment or sludge that has been left behind.
Once you have installed a drip irrigation system, the next natural step in automating your gardening process is upgrading to fertigation. However, make sure you thoroughly educate yourself on the specifics of liquid fertilizer and remote delivery before trying on a large section of plants.